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  • Sylvatic plague, which is caused by a bacteria transmitted by wild rodents via their fleas, is killing prairie dogs in the American West.
  • A new oral vaccine that could protect prairie dogs from plague is being field tested in 29 locations, including Buffalo Gap National Grasslands in western South Dakota.
  • U.S. Forest Service staff, who are testing the vaccine at Buffalo Gap, set up traps in a grid in four colonies to capture the prairie dogs.
  • Prairie dogs are safely transported from the traps to a trailer so measurements can be taken.
  • They are then sedated for their safety and that of the researchers.
  • Blood samples are taken from a clipped toenail, along with hair and whisker samples. The prairie dogs are also combed for fleas. All of the data is sent to a U.S. Geological Survey lab for testing.
  • For their safety and the prairie dogs’, Forest Service staff carry the prairie dogs back to the traps before they wake up.
  • Prairie dogs are then transported back to the burrows they came from.
  • Trap doors are opened and they quickly pop back into their holes.
  • Protecting prairie dogs from plague also protects the black-footed ferret, for which the prairie dogs are a primary food source. Learn more about these rare animals
South Dakota
Testing Plague Vaccine for Prairie Dogs

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